History of Oslo

Mother Earth Travel > Norway > Oslo > History

The Icelandic writer Snorre Sturlason describes that Harald Hardråde established a trading centre east of Oslo in 1050. Archeologists found proof that people lived in Oslo permanently from about the year 1000; therefore Oslo is celebrating its 1000-year anniversary now in the year 2000. The first people of Oslo lived in humble wooden houses with turf roofs, with sheds for goats, sheep and cows. Christianity had newly come to Norway, and soon managed to get a good foothold. During three hundred years, four monasteries and six churches were built in Oslo.

The first great era of Oslo began after Håkon V Magnusson's crowning in 1299. He married the Northern German princess Eufimia of Rügens, and built the fort at Akershus where he later moved to.

In 1301 Duke Erik of Sweden came to Norway to visit his one-year-old fiancée, princess Ingebjørg, daughter of Queen Eufemia and Håkon V Magnusson. 18 years later Ingebjørg and Erik inherited the throne of Sweden and Norway. The first union between the two countries was signed in the Bishop's castle, where Oslo Ladegård is today.

During the Middle Ages Oslo covered an area the size of the Royal Palace Garden, Slottsparken, with its 3,000 inhabitants. When the Black Death arrived in Oslo in 1349, half of the inhabitants died. After the plague, Norway became a province ruled by Denmark, and Copenhagen became the official capital city. The kings had their residences in Copenhagen and Stockholm for most of the time through 1400-1500. Being so close to the two other union countries, Oslo had an important political role.

One night in 1523 soldiers under the Danish-Norwegian monarchy forced their way into Maria Church, and removed all the treasures. The catholic bishop of Oslo, Hans Rev, soon after converted to Protestantism. Despite the reluctance of the citizens, the Reformation was completed in 1537. The ruins of the Cistercian convent at Hovedøya witness this process.

It took flames only three days to burn down the city of Oslo in 1624. After several menacing fires King Christian IV of Denmark-Norway decided to build the town up from scratch, but this time on the other side of Bjørvika. The people protested, and the king himself had to come to Norway to force through his will to resite the city, which he renamed after himself.

With its new Renaissance style, Christiania was built close to the 13th century fort, Akershus Castle. To reduce the risk of a new fire, only brick buildings were allowed within the city borders. This manifested the social differences between the rich and the poor. Poor people had to live in the suburbs in wooden buildings. The social gap in Oslo became even bigger towards the 17th Century; the most fortunate built up vast amounts of capital from trading with wood, as shipping and railroads improved the communication within Norway.

During the 18th Century foreign impulses shaped the everyday life of the citizens of Oslo. Traders often went to Europe, where the Enlightenment thrived. Their most important trading partners were the colonial powers Great Britain and Holland, and they came home with their heads full of enlightened ideas and their luggage full of tobacco, coffee, tea and spices. They did not wait long before they started to build their luxurious houses with magnificent gardens. One of the wealthiest families in town, Collett, lived in the grand house at the corner of Kirkegata and Tollbugata. Today you can find Collettgården rebuilt at the Norwegian Folk Museum.

One early morning in 1716 the Swedish king Karl XII and his troops easily entered Christiania. The authorities had to escape, but even after six weeks of intense fighting his troops did not manage to force Akershus Castle. to its knees. He left Akershus Castle unbesieged, but Christiania was plundered and spoiled, and many lives were lost. Today you can see one of King Karl's cannon-balls built into the wall of the old main post-office as a memory of king Karl's onslaught. Originally the ball hit the building that used to be where the post-office is now.

It was said about 19th Century Christiania, at that time a small, provincial town, that it was "a town with more animals than people". The king of Denmark gave up Norway to Sweden in the celebrated year of 1814. Norway formed its first constitution on 17 May the same year and Christiania became the capital city. People joyfully roamed the streets, the happiness was hardly shadowed by the new forced union with Sweden.

Christiania was now a capital city, and new functions made new demands. New monumental buildings were erected as a symbol of independence; The Royal Palace, Norwegian Bank, and the stock exchange Oslo Børs; some time later, in 1852, Norway's first university was built.

A new class of government officials, a rising economy and the most rapid growth of population in Europe, gave Christiania a brand new look towards the middle of the 19th Century. Increased trade and industrialisation caused the new capital to expand its boundaries.

The extreme public building activity monopolised builders and resources and led to an ardent shortage of housing. A new social class arose with a growing demand for servants, day workers and later industrial workers as the factories along Akerselva were built. Poor people from all over the country came to Christiania in search of jobs and prosperity, but only bad working conditions and long hours awaited them. The population increased from 40,000 to 200,000 between 1850 and 1900, and in some parts of the town as many ten people could live in small one-room apartments.

In 1905 Norway was made independent from the union with Sweden, and Christiania became the capital of the country. It was not until 1924 that the city was renamed Oslo. In 1948 Oslo and the neighbouring community Aker united. The city continued to grow, as after the decadent years of World War II and the German occupation during the years 1940-1945 optimism won. 'The city with the big heart', said the popular major Albert Nordengen of Oslo; this was the centre of Norway and the door to Europe.

The population growth eased during the late sixties. Oslo became less industrial, and more a capital city. A multitude of organisations and businesses and a powerful authority formed a bustling political center. The hippies came and after them hordes of young rebels and punks, and the group calling themselves Blitz occupied the house in which Edvard Munch grew up in. During the seventies and the eighties Løvebakken, in front of the parliament building often became the arena for protests against controversial resolutions, like the EEC and use of nuclear weapons.

Oslo today is made up of fine restaurants and a pulsating nightlife, Italian espresso bars everywhere, Halal-meat at Brugata, not forgetting soggy hamburgers and spicy kebabs in the taxi queue. Oslo is continually influenced by new technologies, urban and international impulses, immigrants and cultures, making this small, big city what it is.